Queer views given to you straight
Queers, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until 3 October
In the programme, director Gennie Holmes describes the Criterion
“community” as “on the whole, white, middle-class and straight”.
Well, I guess I tick all those boxes and, to be honest, I wasn’t wildly
excited about going to a play on the subject of changing attitudes
to homosexuality over the past century or so.
I was, however, delighted that our beloved local theatre was
open for business again. So, suitably masked and socially distanced,
I took my seat more in hope than expectation of a riotously
The cast were even more distanced than the audience. Eight
monologues were delivered from a solitary table from which actors
paused and took a sip or swig of a drink every now and then –
everything from a flat-looking pint to a glass of champagne or a dry
“None of your Harvey’s Bristol Cream,” a splendidly camp
Mark Jeffries shouted to the offstage bar staff. By then it was 1967
and homosexuality had finally been legalised, albeit only for those
Making his entrance to the Kinks singing A Dedicated Follower
of Fashion, the tailor who dubbed himself “the Duchess of Duke
Street” was sporting a startling tartan suit with a red pocket
handkerchief and a wide-collared white shirt.
All too soon he was reminiscing about the good old days of
the Second World War when he’d worked as a rent boy. All those
black-outs. All those American soldiers. All those men coming out
with their true sexual feelings while they still had the chance of a
The play starts in the previous war. Leigh Bartlam, sporting
the sort of moustache that became fashionable in gay circles many
years later, plays a khaki-clad Red Cross man infatuated by his
captain’s long eyelashes and “corn-yellow” hair.
They finally touch hands through a train window on a
crowded station where a weeping man is being taken away by
police. His name? Oscar Wilde. His crime? Gross indecency through
practising “the love that dare not speak its name”.
Well, its name and its nature is spoken of many times in these
monologues, every one of them delivered with distinctive style.
Lewis Goode gives an intriguing insight into what it was like to
be black and “queer” after arriving in London in 1938, a decade
before the Windrush and a year before the outbreak of war.
The Criterion’s artistic director Anne-marie Greene plays a
“straight” woman married to a man whose sexual leanings lie
elsewhere. He manages to make love to her just once in the first six
That particular monologue is set in 1957, the year of the
Wolfenden Report’s conclusion that homosexuality between
consenting adults should be legalised. As we know, it took another
10 years before that recommendation became law.
Twenty years later came the outbreak of the Aids pandemic.
And nearly 30 years after that the legalisation of same-sex
marriage. Both are covered here not only with style but, in the case
of a potential Aids victim played by Ted McGowan, discernible fear.
Another F-word features at regular intervals but, thankfully,
there are no “scenes of a sexual nature”. After all, there’s only one
person on stage at a time. Eight monologues by eight different
writers are delivered by eight different actors – each one giving
thought-provoking resonance to their words.
A reminder, if it were needed, that the reopening of a theatre
can lead to the reopening of minds. Queers will be on at the Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until Saturday October 3.
- CHRIS ARNOT